The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter iii.

How the Great Kaan Marched Against Nayan.

When the Great Kaan heard what was afoot, he made his preparations in right good heart, like one who feared not the issue of an attempt so contrary to justice. Confident in his own conduct and prowess, he was in no degree disturbed, but vowed that he would never wear crown again if he brought not those two traitorous and disloyal Tartar chiefs to an ill end. So swiftly and secretly were his preparations made, that no one knew of them but his Privy Council, and all were completed within ten or twelve days. In that time he had assembled good 360,000 horsemen, and 100,000 footmen — but a small force indeed for him, and consisting only of those that were in the vicinity. For the rest of his vast and innumerable forces were too far off to answer so hasty a summons, being engaged under orders from him on distant expeditions to conquer divers countries and provinces. If he had waited to summon all his troops, the multitude assembled would have been beyond all belief, a multitude such as never was heard of or told of, past all counting. In fact, those 360,000 horsemen that he got together consisted merely of the falconers and whippers-in that were about the court!1

And when he had got ready this handful (as it were) of his troops, he ordered his astrologers to declare whether he should gain the battle and get the better of his enemies. After they had made their observations, they told him to go on boldly, for he would conquer and gain a glorious victory: whereat he greatly rejoiced.

So he marched with his army, and after advancing for 20 days they arrived at a great plain where Nayan lay with all his host, amounting to some 400,000 horse. Now the Great Kaan’s forces arrived so fast and so suddenly that the others knew nothing of the matter. For the Kaan had caused such strict watch to be made in every direction for scouts that every one that appeared was instantly captured. Thus Nayan had no warning of his coming and was completely taken by surprise; insomuch that when the Great Kaan’s army came up, he was asleep in the arms of a wife of his of whom he was extravagantly fond. So thus you see why it was that the Emperor equipped his force with such speed and secrecy.

NOTE 1. — I am afraid Marco, in his desire to impress on his readers the great power of the Kaan, is here giving the reins to exaggeration on a great scale.

Ramusio has here the following explanatory addition:—“You must know that in all the Provinces of Cathay and Mangi, and throughout the Great Kaan’s dominions, there are too many disloyal folk ready to break into rebellion against their Lord, and hence it is needful in every province containing large cities and much population, to maintain garrisons. These are stationed four or five miles from the cities, and the latter are not allowed to have walls or gates by which they might obstruct the entrance of the troops at their pleasure. These garrisons as well as their commanders the Great Khan causes to be relieved every two years; and bridled in this way the people are kept quiet, and can make no disturbance. The troops are maintained not only by the pay which the Kaan regularly assigns from the revenues of each province, but also by the vast quantities of cattle which they keep, and by the sale of milk in the cities, which furnishes the means of buying what they require. They are scattered among their different stations, at distances of 30, 40, or 60 days (from the capital); and had Cublay decided to summon but the half of them, the number would have been incredible,” etc.

[Palladius says (p. 37) that in the Mongol–Chinese documents, the Mongol garrisons cantoned near the Chinese towns are mentioned under the name of Aolu, but no explanation of the term is given. — H. C.]

The system of controlling garrisons, quartered at a few miles from the great cities, is that which the Chinese followed at Kashgar, Yarkand, etc. It is, in fact, our own system in India, as at Barrackpúr, Dinapúr, Sikandarábád, Mián Mír.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24